That many religions exist in the world is a fact, but what that plurality communicates to believers about God is a question that theologians are still discussing, writes Cindy Wooden. Source: CNS.
Pope Francis and Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar and a leading authority for many Sunni Muslims, stepped into the debate this week when they signed a document on “human fraternity” and improving Christian-Muslim relations.
“The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in his wisdom, through which he created human beings,” the document said.
The document goes on to insist on the basic human right to freedom of religion, appealing to both Christians and Muslims not only to tolerate the religious faith of the other, but to recognise the other’s faith as something “willed by God in his wisdom.”
In other words, the message seems to be, if God “wants” religious diversity, who are human beings to be intolerant of it?
But can God really “want” a variety of religions? And is that what the statement Pope Francis signed really says?
In a post on the document, Fr John Zuhlsdorf, a blogger, tried to explain things by saying that God has an “active or positive will” of what he desires and makes happen, and “a ‘permissive will’ by which he allows that things will take place that are not in accord with the order he established.”
In that case, God tolerates other religions.
But Pope Francis and Sheik el-Tayeb seemed to assert something more and to demand of their faithful an attitude that goes beyond being tolerant of religious pluralism.
Speaking to reporters flying back to Rome with him on Tuesday, Pope Francis said, “I want to restate this clearly: from the Catholic point of view, the document does not deviate one millimetre from Vatican II.”
Nostra Aetate, the council document on the Church’s relationship with other religions, affirmed: “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men.”